The Alltrack version of the Volkswagen Passat wagon promises a lifted ride height for gravel-road travel, and greater comfort everywhere – let’s see if this raised wagon lives up to its promises.
Better late than never, the updated Alltrack brings a crisper aesthetic to the eight-gen ‘B8’ Passat wagon, while updates to the cabin tech have seen Volkswagen add useful features without going anywhere near as far in ditching traditional buttons and switches as the new Mk 8 Golf hatch.
Most notably, though, the Passat Alltrack has gone through an engine swap, substituting the old 140kW/400Nm turbo diesel for a turbo petrol producing 162kW of power and 350Nm of torque.
The move to petrol power immediately makes the Alltrack a more athletic proposition, but we want to determine whether the swap to the unleaded engine has impacted the Alltrack’s all-road usability.
For a start, the new car is thirstier. Volkswagen claims you’ll only make it 800km on a full tank of 95 RON unleaded instead of easily over 1,000km from the old TDI. But with the Australian buyer’s growing preference for petrol power, Volkswagen saw sense in switching.
Of course, it isn’t all about the engines because the Alltrack now benefits from sleeker LED headlights, a new VW badge design, and attractive tail lights. Minor tweaks, sure, but they add up to a more contemporary appearance.
While Volkswagen still offers a Passat sedan, you can’t get one in Alltrack guise. The lifted Alltrack is sold exclusively as a wagon – no bad thing in our books.
However, the flat white paint on our $46,990 ($51,790 driveaway) 162TSI test car isn’t the most flattering hue. We’d spend the extra $800 to get one finished in the attractive ‘Aquamarine Blue’ metallic.
Volkswagen offers a more upmarket take on the Alltrack with the 162TSI Premium, though the $58,790 (plus on-roads) list price makes it nearly $12,000 more than the car we have on test. It also puts the Alltrack Premium in line with the $64,990 Volvo V60 Cross Country rather than the Subaru Outback Touring ($47,790) with which this 162TSI competes.
Volkswagen’s launch campaign in Australia emphasises the increased safety features for the updated Passat range, with the German marque bequeathing their new IQ Drive safety suite across the lineup, including the Alltrack on test.
In practice, the enhanced adaptive cruise control and lane-trace assist worked effectively on the freeway with stop-and-go functionality making traffic jams a cinch.
According to Volkswagen, the system is clever enough to adjust the car’s speed for hazards like upcoming bends, changing speed limits and even roundabouts. Realistically, though, the system doesn’t wow with Tesla’s near-autonomy. Instead, it relieves some fatigue for the driver on long freeway slogs.
In addition to the travel assist program, the Alltrack has AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors.
While the trend is to go for an SUV like the Volkswagen Tiguan due to its higher driving position and greater perceived visibility, the airy cabin and conventional shape of the Passat Alltrack made it a genuinely wieldy machine. Despite its 4,780mm length (a Tiguan is 4,509mm), it was easy to judge the wagon’s position while parallel parking in town.
The rest of the Alltrack package is impressive, too, thanks to the standard inclusion of adaptive dampers, which have an almost ridiculous spectrum of adjustment. Like in the Mark 8 Golf GTI, a slider in the infotainment system offers 15 selectable damper settings..
Truth be told, the extremes of the slider are unusable. In full soft, it feels like the Passat’s dampers are shot, with body control allowed to become far too loose. Select full-firm and it’s enough to shake tooth fillings out. Seriously, the rebound dampening is tighter than you’d need even on an ice skating rink.
So much choice is overwhelming and, frankly, unnecessary. The Passat Alltrack does its best with the dampers in ‘comfort’ around town, and either side of the ‘normal’ setting everywhere else, most Aussie roads are too bumpy for ‘sport’ to be of much use.
Leave the dampers where Volkswagen intended them to be set, and the Passat is superbly controlled at high speed, keeping its 1,681kg in control at all times on testing back roads and keeping body roll well suppressed in the corners. At low speed, though, there is less compliance and greater bump-shock than a Subaru Outback.
The Passat is set up to be a surefooted handler with neutrality or mild understeer its default. While Volkswagen’s light steering tune adds to the athletic feel and disguises the Passat’s weight, the Alltrack isn’t as outright fun as a Golf R Wagon but still offers plenty of enjoyment for the keen driver given its Greyhound carrying potential.
Show the Alltrack some dirt – not 4WD trails, there’s only 173mm of ground clearance – and it impresses. Like on the open road, the damping is best at speed. Slower-speed rocky sections resulted in jolts into the cabin from the 18-inch alloy wheels and athletic Continental Sport Contact 5 245/45 series tyres. This trait is even more pronounced in the Alltrack Premium which wears massive 19-inch alloy wheels.
It was the same story in urban areas, where the Alltrack never felt as plush and relaxed as a softer Subaru Outback does. Still, even if the Passat is on the harsher side of all-road capable, the composure is there.
Adding to that composure is the AWD system. Although the Passat sits on the VW group’s MQB platform, the engine sits longitudinally, so the system is more proactive than in a Golf Alltrack. The Passat will still spin its front wheels first then send power backwards, but in practice, there’s ample grip.
Volkswagen’s choice to offer only one engine for the Australian Passat Alltrack reflects its niche positioning. European buyers can select one of three engines; two turbo-diesels and this car’s 162kW and 350Nm two-litre four-cylinder engine.
While the petrol offers more up-top antics, it isn’t what you’d call frantic. It’s a classic Volkswagen turbo petrol feel with consistent motivation throughout the rev range.
Naturally, the engine is hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that is very slick. It still has some quirks for those used to torque converters, but it only takes a few kilometres to adjust your driving to the VW’s preferences. The benefits are incredibly smooth up-shifts in sport mode and obedient manual operation.
The Passat Alltrack 162TSI’s cabin is not about wow-factor: it’s pragmatic and understated in here, rather than glitzy.
In this Outback-priced ‘base model’ Alltrack, you find cloth-appointed seats with no heating and only partial electric adjustment. Ahead of the driver are analogue gauges and a simply laid-out steering wheel with no haptic touch buttons. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is also small, though offers decent resolution.
Put one way, the lack of flashy technology is reassuring. The basic Alltrack variant has an honest interior perfectly tailored to its practical character.
Everything just works. The menus in the touchscreen are all simply laid out so it’s easy to switch radio stations and adjust drive mode settings. Volkswagen has also added wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which worked flawlessly throughout the test period.
The only gripe is the lack of wireless charging to fully take advantage of cableless mirroring. But Volkswagen has committed to being tech-forward in other areas, with touch air-con controls (they’re still separate from the infotainment, thankfully) and two fast-charge USB-C ports.
There are the typical Volkswagen niceties including flock-lined door bins and central storage cubby that sits under a leather-appointed adjustable armrest. The two small cupholders nestled into the centre console have a roller door to hide house keys or other valuables you might need to store.
Most of the touchpoints are of high quality, too. The dash and door tops have squidgy plastic and the perforated leather-appointed steering wheel is a lovely thing to hold. The only real specification clanger is the lack of seat heating for the otherwise comfortable chairs.
Of course, opting for the Alltrack Premium addresses that with heated, fully electric leather-appointed seats and steering wheel. It also adds Volkwagen’s excellent digital driver’s display, premium sound system and a larger 9.2-inch screen.
Is the 162TSI Premium’s extra equipment worth an additional $12,000? That’s a significant increase over this car, and it seems unlikely buyers will be cross-shopping the two specifications. If you have the extra money, though, the Premium is a no-brainer.
What you don’t lose by staying with this entry-level Alltrack is the space on offer in the rear quarters. The Passat is a sizable vehicle measuring 4,780mm long with a 2,791mm wheelbase that equates to palatial rear quarters, there was plenty of space behind my driving position even at six-foot-two.
Other niceties include a flip-down armrest, two ISOFIX ports and two more USB-C charging ports to keep devices charged.
The Passat also offers a massive 650L boot space which easily bests the 615L boot in the Tiguan 162TSI Elegance ($50,790 plus on-roads). In the Passat, there are curry hooks, a load cover, a space-saver spare tyre, and tabs to fold the second-row remotely meaning the Alltrack is set up well for an active lifestyle.
Volkswagen’s combustion engines are generally very efficient, pushing around the large Alltrack. The marque claims a combined consumption of 8.1L/100km. Our test loop took in highways, dirt and urban roads for a result of 8.5L/100km.
The result was pretty close to Volkswagen’s claim, but quite a way off the old diesel. It also means the range is down from 1,000km in the diesel to 800km per tank in the petrol. That may or may not bother you, as 800km is still an impressive roaming distance.
Volkswagen offers affordable service packs for the Passat. Five years or 75,000km of maintenance would normally cost $3,592, but buying the service pack knocks it back to $2,400 for the same period. Maintenance is due every 12 months or 15,000km.
In Australia, Volkswagen backs all of its vehicles with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Volkswagen’s new entry-level Passat Alltrack grade means this raised wagon can compete on more level pricing ground with the ever-popular Subaru Outback. Volkswagen have executed the updated Alltrack impressively, with a smooth, powerful engine and enjoyable dynamics.
But there is still a little left on the table. For instance, the interior feels more Golf in quality rather than the cut-price Audi A6 that is the Alltrack Premium. If Volkswagen offered an option pack for the base Alltrack with heated seats, it might just be perfect.
The Passat Alltrack 162TSI does an awful lot right, though. The adaptive dampers give it an expansive envelope of operation, and the AWD system keeps the Alltrack surefooted at all times, even on muddy dirt roads.
On the whole, the Alltrack is a charming and easy car to live with – it’s certainly worth considering if you’re looking at a Tiguan as the Passat handles better and boasts more interior space than most medium SUVs. Long live the wagon, we say.
Key specs (as tested)
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